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February 23, 2007

Adventures in Doll Making Pt. 1: Sculpting

As a kid I loved to make dolls out of corn stalks, rocks, sticks, and weeds. My sister and neighbor and I would play in my Mother's rock garden for hours. We’d each claim a cluster of rocks for our dolls to live in and thus have an entire doll neighborhood.

On the surface, doll making seems like a cheesy hobby, and in some cases it is. But if you look a little deeper you’ll find it can be a really beautiful art form. The Grand Rapids library has a good selection of books on the subject and there are many examples of doll making on the internet.
Eric Sanko
Tomothy Haugen
Scott Radke
I’m sure there are many more as I’ve just begun to scratch the surface.

Yesterday I began to sculpt my first doll. I decided to keep it simple; a rabbit head with a tubular human body.

There are lots of profession doll making supplies, which I don’t have, but I gathered a few useful items: paper clay, water, rags, paper towel, aluminum foil, paint brushes, a razor blade, scissors, toothpicks and reference photos.

First I formed two lumps of aluminum foil, one head and one torso. I then covered these with the clay and connected them with a neck. In retrospect I wish I would have reinforced the neck with a toothpick or a straight pin. Instead I simply reinforced it with more clay. I sculpted four simple limbs and sculpted two ears which I wrapped around the end of a paint brush to get a bit of a curl.

To attach the limbs, I simple poked a toothpick through the torso and slid the limbs in place. When I’m ready to assemble the doll I will run string through each piece and tie it off, likely with a tiny button to reinforce the knots.

I then added a little bunny tail, which I had forgotten. I painted a coat of water over the entire surface of the rabbit to smooth out any fingerprints.

I will let the rabbit doll dry for a couple of days disassembled. I might put it in the oven at a low temperature to make sure I have removed all of the moisture from the clay, but with paper clay that is not really necessary. In step two, I will sand, paint, and varnish the doll. I will then make clothing.

As for the paint job, I’m thinking of perhaps doing an old fashion black with a white face. Sort of like early Mickey Mouse. But then again, maybe I’ll keep the natural color and just paint on features.

Posted by audrey at February 23, 2007 1:45 PM


wow! this looks like great fun! what a nice weekend project. thanks for the idea audrey!

Posted by: james at February 23, 2007 9:07 PM

i've been wanting to try some figurine work, ideally stuff i could make molds for and reproduce. i've had a hard time finding information, let alone materials. this is Awesome.

Posted by: todd at February 24, 2007 12:07 AM

That's funny you mention molds. Kyle and I went to a craft store today and looked at mold making, casting, and resin supplies. I'm sure there is a huge assortment of choices out there, but even at a local chain store you can get some basic supplies for less than $30. Kyle might try it soon.

Posted by: audrey at February 24, 2007 12:34 AM

sweet idea. Would you ever be interested in helping some kids at the shelter make dolls? we're always looking for new ideas and helpers.

Posted by: steph at February 24, 2007 11:18 AM

I totally would but I'm living on the east side of Michigan now.

Posted by: audrey at February 24, 2007 11:27 AM

Want to sell it to me?

Posted by: nicole at February 26, 2007 4:04 PM

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